As first phase learners have returned to school, many teachers have raised concern about their own health and safety. While cases of Covid-19 have been minimal in people under the age of 21, it has had the harshest impact on people over 55, many of whom remain in the workforce.
According to Free State MEC of Education, Tate Makgoe, the safety of teachers is prioritised with the same urgency as that of learners. “The principle idea is to ensure that teachers do not get infected. In the same breath, we also have to ensure that learners are safe. Teachers with co-morbidities need a letter from their doctors. Once these are processed and approved by the department, they can work from home,” he said.
Although Makgoe did not give details on how teachers would work from home, he expressed that some teachers who may be vulnerable to infection, will either work completely or partly from home. “There are a number of teachers with hypertension or diabetes who are functional and can continue to work,” he said.
Principal of Brebner High School, Andrew Taylor, expressed that while the school has met all safety requirements to reopen, it will follow due procedure for affected teachers. “When it comes to teachers who have health issues, we follow the procedures. We won’t force teachers to put their lives at risk,” he explained.
School governing bodies and teachers’ unions alike highlighted the need for improved regulation on the safety of educators as Covid-19 infections continue to spread. “The co-morbidity issues have not been battened down properly. The Department of Basic Education rushed to the Education Labour Relations Council in an attempt to hammer out an agreement on a policy in this regard. This has left a substantial group of teachers anxious and uncertain,” read a joint statement by the National School Governing Body Association and Education Trade Unions last week.
Presently, more than 50% of Covid-19 patients have been people above the age of 50. According to the Department of Health, about 25% of infections affect South Africans between 50 and 59, while those between the ages of 60 and 69 make up 27% of positive cases.